Updated  
June, 27 2011 17:52:41

Hope springs eternal in arid commune

Dry-roasted: Ninh Thuan Province is one of the driest regions in Viet Nam. Prolonged droughts mean that rural communities in the province barely grow enough food to live on. — VNA/VNS Photo Xuan Truong
Water genie: Tran Nam inspects the dam he built with his own money to collect water to irrigate nearby fields. — VNS Photo
People in Vinh Tan Commune, which is known as "the little desert", can now irrigate their crops all year round thanks to the dyke and network of pipes built by local resident Tran Nam, aka Nam Tot. Trung Hieu reports.

Under the hot, burning sun of central Viet Nam, an old man in a plain set of pyjamas gropes his way through the bushes up the side of a mountain.

Tran Nam, aka Nam Tot, 68, is checking on a system of pipes he installed to provide nearby villages with natural spring water.

After retiring in 2000, Nam decided to migrate from the nearby Ninh Thuan Province to settle his family in Vinh Tan Commune, in Binh Thuan Province's Tuy Phong District.

His family opened a rice restaurant called Vinh Hao by National Highway 1 to earn a living.

Vinh Tan Commune is known as "the little desert" of Binh Thuan, as it suffers from drought for more than six months of the year. Local residents including Nam's family used to have to buy fresh water each day, which was very expensive.

Nam was a former resistance fighter who spent 13 years operating in the region during the American War, so he remembered that high up on Da Chet Mountain (8km from his village), a lake feeds a small stream that runs to the foot of the mountain.

"I had the idea of trying to divert that water to the village for residents to use," he recalls.

After studying the terrain for a week, Nam asked a local construction engineer to show him how to build a dam to store water.

"The idea was simple, but in practice, it was extremely hard work," he says.

In the early dry season of 2003, Nam hired 10 men to help him carry cement and other equipment up the mountain to build his dam.

At that time, his friends and family said that Nam was a fool for spending his life savings on the project, but he just smiled.

"Luckily, my wife supported me, so I had the courage to carry on," he says.

After months of hard labour under the hot sun, a 27m-long, 6m-wide and 4m-high dam was completed in mid-April 2004.

Encouraged by his success, Nam bravely asked his workers to start the construction of a second dam further downstream, to change the course of the water.

Once again, the group spent nearly two months working in arid, dusty conditions, but then disaster struck. Nam ran out of money.

"We had to down tools, but I swore I would never quit. If I quit, the region would be a desert forever!" he says.

A year later, after accumulating more money from his restaurant and loans from his friends, Nam returned to the mountain with his workers, and eventually, they were victorious.

By the end of 2008, they had altered the course of the 8.5km long stream, using 14 concrete dams. Nam installed a system of pipes to run the water down to the village.

On the first day water was piped into the village, it sparked locals into an impromptu festival.

From his first 1,000m of pipes, Nam has now linked a further 20km around Vinh Hung Village.

Nam says he has spent a total of VND4 billion (US$195,000) on the project, and he plans to keep expanding.

Local resident Bach Van Thanh, 55, says: "I have lived in the village all my life, but I never dared to dream that one day I would be using running water for cooking, bathing and washing like I do now!"

The work now supplies water to about 100 households in Vinh Hung Village and about 200 households in the nearby Lac Son Village which belongs to Ca Na Commune in Ninh Thuan Province.

Chairman of Vinh Tan Commune People's Committee Nguyen Thu says that after Nam had completed his project, underground water in the region started to rise.

"During the dry season, we no longer have to worry about wells running dry like they did in the past," he says.

Initially, Nam didn't charge people for their new utility, but during those years, the supply was unreliable because it depended on the natural water source.

In 2009, he asked locals to contribute VND5,000 per cu.m of water, to give him the means to maintain the system. Everyone supported the idea, and thanks to their contributions, Nam was able to upgrade the system and improve reliability.

He has also built five filteration tanks along the stream, each between 20 and 30sq.m, and he recently visited HCM City to purchase equipment that helps clean the water and kill bacteria.

However, Nam says he still feels anxious as the system still can't supply water all the year round.

"The stream is often short of water during the dry season, so there is a lack of water in May. That's why I am trying to further upgrade my construction so that I can supply fresh water to my people the whole year round," he says, with a confident look in his eyes. — VNS

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